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Back To The Future: The Hendo Hoverboard and 5 More Outlandish Vehicles Designed by Architects

We just can’t help ourselves! Architects have long been delving into other design disciplines, and while some may argue that we should stick to what we know, it seems only natural that our creative flare occasionally overflows into other industries  one of the most popular being transportation. A case in point came to the fore last week, as a certain Kickstarter project went viral: the Hendo Hoverboard has achieved its funding goal and more, with $365,000 currently invested in the experimental product.

It’s been the dream of many to glide along the streets ever since Marty McFly took to his board in "Back To The Future II," so the hype is predictably high. Architect Greg Henderson  CEO of Arx Pax has developed the floating prototype, and is also promoting a ‘white box’ starter kit that allows people to experiment with ‘hover technology’ in their own homes.


Criticisms have fallen at Henderson’s door, with many feeling that more naïve members of the public are being mislead  this is not true 'levitation’ after all, but existing mag-lev technology on a micro-scale. The board will only work over a conducting surface, so unless the streets are paved with copper in the near future, boarders will be confined to specially designed skate parks. At $10,000 a board, this appears painfully prohibitive at present.

Despite this, the ‘proof of concept’ product is undeniably intriguing, and follows in a long line of architects envisioning vehicles in their search for creative immortality. Here are 5 more classics from down the years, in chronological order.


Ornithopter | Leonardo Da Vinci

Da Vinci was a polymath for whom architecture played just a small part  he had a passion for inventions in every conceivable field, and one of his most famous was the flying machine, or Ornithopter.

The artisan’s many sketches showed the mechanics of the experimental contraption in extraordinary detail. He utilized his vast knowledge of physics to establish a design that would enable a human to produce enough force for sustained uplift, employing all manner of hand levers, foot pedals, and pulleys to do so. While the manual device never proved viable in the real world, the drawings still provide a fascinating insight into early explorations of aviation.


The Dymaxion Car | Buckminster Fuller / Norman Foster

Fuller’s teardrop-shaped concept car was designed as a sustainable exemplar for automobiles. Its quirky shape was based on Aurel Persu’s aerodynamic principles, and it certainly was eye-catching:The Guardian’s Jonathan Glancey neatly described it as “a VW camper van crossed with a pinball flipper”.

The 11-seater (yes  eleven!) was flawed in many ways  steering issues were blamed for the first prototype crashing on the way to the 1933 World Fair in Chicago, killing the driver and severely injuring 2 passengers. Despite this, the design has proven influential for many modern car manufacturers, and British architect Norman Foster adored the vehicle so much, he built his own in 2010.


Unique Circle Yachts | Zaha Hadid

Famed for her use of organic curves and sensuous forms within architecture, it seems that Zaha Hadid’s signature style might be a perfect fit for the dynamics of naval design  take a look at this rendered concept for a Unique Circle Yacht and judge for yourself.

The interlaced structure of the boat is informed by “fluid dynamics and underwater ecosystems, with hydrodynamic research shaping the design of the hull.” Does this translate to a practical seafaring vessel, or a sculptural artifact that would be better suited to an art gallery than the open ocean? I’ll leave that for you to decide …


Pibal Bicycle | Philippe Starck

After designing novel buildings such as the Asahi Beer Hall in Tokyo  not to mention the most famouslemon squeezer in history  Starck teamed up with Peugeot to design this prototype bicycle-come-scooter, intended for a free cycle scheme in Bordeaux, France.

The premise is that in congested city centers, riders can utilize the scooter-like platform to push themselves along on one foot  according to Starck, the extra flexibility for maneuvering provides “an answer to new urban ergonomics.” Some may argue that the Frenchman constructed that gap in the market for the sake of eccentricity, but nonetheless, it’s an interesting experiment in marrying two forms of manual transport.



Zootopia Pods | BIG

BIG Architects caused a stir earlier this year when they revealed designs for a new form of zoo in Givskud, Denmark, where the animals roam free and humans are contained within futuristic globules of mirrors and glass.

The pods  designed as a hybrid of tricycle, boat, and cable car  are intended to immerse the visitors within environments akin to the wildlife’s natural habitats. Whether this forms a cage-free zoo, or a car-free safari park, it’s hard to say  but if BIG’s proposal is seen through, all will become clear by 2019.

Keep your eyes peeled for hoverboard developments; in the meantime, I’m off to watch that movie again …

Where we’re going, we don’t need roads!

Yours levitatingly,

The Angry Architect

Images via Architizer